Flame and smoke erupts from the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, N.B., on Monday, September 8, 2018. (Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press)

Flame and smoke erupts from the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, N.B., on Monday, September 8, 2018. (Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press)

Fire, smoke fill Saint John sky after oil refinery blast: ‘My whole house shook’

Only four people received minor injuries

A massive oil refinery blast shook the historic port city of Saint John New Brunswick Monday, sending flames and black smoke high into the sky but causing only four minor injuries — and leaving officials relieved it wasn’t far worse.

“We’re very grateful today — and being Thanksgiving, I think it’s appropriate,” Kevin Scott, Irving Oil’s chief refining and supply officer, told reporters at an afternoon briefing after a tense day. “Very fortunate they had only minor injuries.”

Saint John residents described feeling an explosion at about 10:15 a.m. local time, at Irving’s refinery on the city’s east side.

“My whole house shook. I thought my furnace had exploded,” said Litsa Daeres, 34, who opened her curtains and saw the flames and thick, black smoke.

Scott said there had been a malfunction in the refinery’s diesel treating unit, where sulphur is removed from diesel fuel.

One worker at the refinery, who didn’t want to be identified, said the initial blast had been enough to knock him down.

“There was quite a shockwave when the blast happened,” he said as he left with co-workers hours afterward.

There were as many as 3,000 workers on the refinery Monday — but most of the facility was shut down for major maintenance, and nearly all of the workers were contractors working on the turn-around.

Scott said the unit was quickly shut down after the blast.

“The fire did take a number of hours to extinguish, with some of the material that had leaked into the area of the unit that was affected. At times we were letting that just safely extinguish itself,” he said.

Most of the minor injuries were to contractors, not Irving staff, he said.

The refinery is near several residential neighbourhoods, and is about five kilometres from the city core, known as Uptown.

According to the Irving Oil web site, the refinery produces more than 320,000 barrels of “finished energy products” every day, with more than half going the U.S. northeast. Scott said they hope to minimize the impact on clients.

At 4 p.m. local time, residents were still being asked to stay in their homes, and nearby streets remained closed. But District Chief Mike Carr of Saint John fire said there were no air quality concerns, other than the smoke.

“At this time, the incident is stabilized,” said Carr.

The thick, black plume of smoke earlier in the day had been cause for concern for Gordon Dalzell, who lives in the nearby subdivision of Chaplain Heights — but the bigger issue, he said, is the other pollutants in the air that can be neither seen nor smelled.

Dalzell, the chair of Saint John’s Citizens Coalition for Clean Air, said the refinery already emits many different types of “volatile organic compounds” into the air: organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure and can be hazardous to human health.

“Obviously, there was a lot of black, sooty smoke … but I worry more about what you can’t see in terms of pollution that comes from the refinery,” he said. “The pollutants you can’t see or smell, they’re the ones that are of great, great concern, on a regular basis.”

He said he was grateful that nobody was seriously injured, but he hopes the incident will help stakeholders reconsider the continued use of fossil fuels when greener options are available.

READ MORE: Oil refinery explosion shakes Saint John, but no reports of serious injuries

Like others in the area Thanksgiving morning, Dalzell was shocked by the initial explosion.

“Our house actually shook, our windows, we could feel the direct impact of the explosion in our house … it didn’t take very long to discover, of course, that a very heavy black plume was coming from the site,” he said.

“We thought we were going to have to evacuate and take the turkey with us.”

Nate Guimond, 36, said he was doing house repairs when he looked outside and saw the scene.

“There was thick, pitch black smoke mixed with white smoke,” said Guimond. “I heard a rumbling, roaring sound.”

He decided to drive by the refinery, and said he was nearby when he felt the vibrations of what he assumed must be a second explosion.

Michael Steeves said he was driving about a kilometre away when he saw flames reach as high as 100 feet in the air. He said the incident reminded him of a similar event in the late 90s, when the same refinery suffered a similar explosion which left one person dead.

“Just seeing the clouds, and what they’ve got closed off, it just seems to be a pretty similar level of event,” he said.

The Saint John Regional Hospital had issued an “orange alert,” meaning it was preparing for a possible influx of patients. But the health authority later tweeted that the hospital “is running as usual today.”

— With files from Alex Cooke in Halifax and Alanna Rizza and Nicole Thompson in Toronto.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Black Crow Cannabis is just one of Vernon's many pot shops now open in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Kelowna has highest cannabis fees in Okanagan

Vernon’s 14 stores pay second highest business licence fees

Serving alcohol has been altered in the Central Okanagan Public Schools policy regarding rental of school facilities for after-school hours events. (Contributed)
Alcohol option opened up at Central Okanagan school facilities rented for events

Central Okanagan Board of Education retains final approval for after-hours event approvals

Voting day for the upcoming Central Okanagan Board of Education by-election is June 26. (Contributed)
Central Okanagan school board election set for June 26

Kelowna voters will go the polls to fill vacant Kelowna trustee seat

Two bikes that were stolen after a West Kelowna parking garage was looted on April 3. Photo: Crime Stoppers Central Okanagan
Parking garage looted in West Kelowna

A car was broken into and six storage lockers were ransacked

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a quick roundup of the stories that made headlines across the Okanagan, from April 11 to 16

Old English design elements can be seen in the sign of the Summerland Farm and Garden Centre in 1993. The guidelines are no longer in place, but some downtown businesses still show aspects of the days when Summerland had a theme in place. This photo was taken by Summerland photographer Dan Dorotich. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Summerland’s Old English theme has been abandoned

From the 1980s until the early 2000s, Summerland had design guidelines in its downtown

Penticton bylaw officers tore down a “pretty significantly sized” homeless camp underneath the bridge near Riverside Drive Friday, April 16 morning. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton bylaw tears down ‘significantly sized’ homeless camp under bridge

Many residents had made complaints about the camp before it was torn down

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

Ford F-350s have been targeted in the North Okanagan by auto thieves since February 2021, Vernon North Okanagan RCMP data shows. (Gene J. Puskar - The Canadian Press/AP file)
Auto thieves target older Ford F-350s in Vernon: RCMP

Vernon Mounties remind all motorists no vehicle is immune to auto crime

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Most Read